Emotional Eating: How to Cope

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If you raid the fridge when you’re stressed or upset, that’s called emotional eating. Emotional eating affects most people from time to time. But regularly letting your feelings guide your food intake can affect your health.

Emotions that can prompt eating include:

  • Anger
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling down on yourself
  • Not feeling that you're in control of your own life
  • Sadness
  • Stress

Eating more food than your body needs can have dangerous results. People who eat for emotional reasons often gain too much weight. This puts them at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and cancer. Excessive eating has emotional consequences as well. These include feeling guilty or embarrassed afterward. Here are steps you can take to stop emotional eating episodes and break the cycle:

Learn to recognize hunger. Next time you reach for a snack, ask yourself what’s driving it. If you are truly hungry, you’ll notice physical symptoms such as a growling stomach. Other less obvious hunger cues include grouchiness and trouble focusing. If you don't have those signs, you likely don’t need to eat right then.

Keep a journal. Write down what you eat each day. Also include the feelings you were having at the time and if you were truly hungry. You may find that certain feelings, such as anger or sadness, lead to your overeating. Once you see these triggers, you can learn healthier ways to deal with them.

Build a support network. Having friends and family around you who support your efforts to change your eating habits can improve your chances of success.

Find other interests. You may find that your eating is driven by boredom. A new passion can help boost your self-confidence and fill your free time making you less likely to look to food for emotional satisfaction.

Get help if needed. If you can’t control emotional eating on your own, think about getting professional help to change your behavior. A counselor or a registered dietitian can help you change your eating habits and deal with unpleasant emotions in a better way.

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